Living in one world, preparing for another. Homeschooling through phonograms and amphibians and multiples of four. Prayers go up for the crisis in Goma and the fatherless down the street. The close on our house and the deadline for our support-raising fast approach. Many questions loom, many tasks rise up. But in the midst of a thousand things to do as we look forward at the road ahead, I treasure the coming of this season that begs me to look back… through two thousand years of questions and task lists to the staggering event that puts all the rest of life- all the rest of history- into its proper place. The weight of the incarnation quiets my soul…
Christmas in Unexpected Places (reposted from 12/2/2011)
This morning I had the privilege of spending time with a group of women at a state correctional facility here in Dallas. It was a women’s Bible study made up of about 50 inmates and 20 or so volunteers, and I had been invited to come and lead the group in worship for a few minutes. The facility itself is only a few miles from our house, and it is striking how a place so close geographically can feel so entirely as if it belongs in a different world.
As I entered the building, I handed over my driver’s license, clipped a dirty visitor badge onto my sweater and passed through security, getting buzzed through locked doors and making my way through a maze of dingy corridors up to the unit where the ladies in the Bible study were waiting.
I am always amazed at how we sometimes find Jesus in the most unusual places.
I chatted with one woman in the first few moments as we waited for things to begin. Our conversation was brief but she was very friendly and open, sharing in a matter of minutes everything from how she was glad we were here to how cute she thought my hair was, mentioning also that her daughter is a nude dancer amongst other struggles that have plagued her family for generations.
She stood before me as transparent as anyone ever has no doubt, and I was struck by her badge:
Mine said visitor.
I kept rolling those two identities around in my mind as I was there. What a difference letters on a badge make. I thought about how good freedom feels when the reality of prison is as close and tangible as the cement blocks around you. And I thought about how many people would put me and the woman standing in front of me in different camps: Some people are offenders. Some are visitors. Some belong here. Some do not.
And strictly speaking, from a matter of obeying the law, they would be right. Actions have consequences, and my friend is experiencing a consequence for some of her actions. But the weight of law and justice fell very heavy on me this morning. It weighed on me, pushing my mind and heart past something as temporary and transient as a correctional facility in Dallas, Texas to the core truth of humanity:
Before God we all wear a badge that says: offender.
The state of Texas might put me and my friend in different file folders, but the deeper truth is that we both come before the same God with the same drug of sin still pulsing in our veins and the same rebellious ways and the same nature that would prefer the God of the universe take a back seat to the throne from which I’d like to reign over my own life, thank you very much.
This is who we are, she and I. And the unpleasantness of it is palpable for me as I observe the caged existence reserved for offenders.
And then I tell them we are going to sing Joy to the World. And I marvel that it is not Joy to Some. Or Joy to the College Educated without a Criminal Record. It is Joy to Offenders and Joy to Visitors. Because when Jesus was born and heaven broke into the darkness of our world, He came for His sheep… who had ALL gone astray. And I marvel even more that when He came, He came not to write a check and bail us out.
He came to take our offender badge.
And wear it Himself.
Christmas. A baby born under the star of Bethlehem and in the shadow of death row. The righteous for the unrighteous. Holy Visitor for the offender.
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Cor 5:21